Humility: Some Thoughts…

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Psalm 25:9 – 5/8/17

As I reflect on Psalm 25, I find myself drawn to a couple of verses in the middle.  And while they are back-to-back, I find my thinking about them going in different directions; I am led, then, to reflect on them separately.  First, verse 9:

“[The Lord] leads the humble in what is right,

And teaches the humble his way.”

(Ps. 25:9, NRSV)

Just this morning I was talking with my kids about what it means to be modest, to be humble–which, it seems to me, can be a pretty difficult concept, whether you’re on the explaining side or the understanding side!  Our conversation began as a result of an exchange between John and Sarah, in which Sarah said to John, in reference to something he had drawn, “Wow, John! That’s really good!”  To which John quickly and emphatically replied, “No, it’s not! It’s awful!”  To which I quickly but less emphatically replied, “You know, John, that’s really not very attractive…” (he seems to be doing that a lot lately–denying his gifts, rejecting any proffered compliments–and I’ve wondered if it’s out of some sort of attempted modesty? or false humility? or perhaps a genuine disparaging of his talents?  Regardless, I felt like it was time to “call him on it”…) which was followed by a conversation among us all about the importance of being able to recognize and acknowledge our own gifts–without being obnoxious or arrogant about it; the challenge of graciously accepting compliments from others; and what it means to be truly humble.

So what does it mean to be truly humble?  Does it mean denying that you’re good at anything? Does it mean believing that everyone else is somehow better than you at everything?  Does it mean telling yourself you’re not important, and allowing others to treat you accordingly? Does it mean acting as though everyone else is somehow more important?  Does it mean feeling embarrassed, or unable, to acknowledge your gifts or talents or passions?  Does it mean living as though the gifts, talents, and passions of others are somehow more valuable and more worthy of recognition?

I don’t think true humility is any of those things.  And while I can more easily say what I think it is not than I can define it absolutely, I think some part of what it means is captured in the verse above:  

“[The Lord] leads the humble in what is right,

And teaches the humble his way.”

(Ps. 25:9, NRSV)

…and that “part” is that to be humble is to be able to be led, to be able to be taught.  Arrogance would lead you to believe that you will be doing the leading, that you will be doing the teaching, because you are the one, above all others, who knows what is right, who knows where to go, and who knows the best way to get there.  You do not need anyone to lead you, nor do you need anyone to teach you.  Not even God.  You know it all.  If only you could convince everyone else of that!  

Humility, on the other hand, allows you to acknowledge that while yes, you do know some things, you don’t know everything.  Humility allows you to recognize that no matter how much you know, there is always more you can learn–particularly if God is the one doing the teaching; that no matter how confident you are that you are going in the right direction, you are still open to being led in a different direction–especially if God is the one doing the leading.  

“[The Lord] leads the humble in what is right,

And teaches the humble his way.”

And what is right, what is God’s way, is knowing yourself to be of equal value as others…believing that no one else is more important, nor less important, than anyone else…claiming your inherent worth and belovedness while promoting the inherent worth and belovedness of every other person…and recognizing that everyone has gifts and talents and passions to be discovered and shared and valued.

Yes, John, your drawing is really good!  Does that mean you’re more awesome and more valuable than anyone else?  No.  Are you the most artistically talented ten-year-old on Earth?  No.  Does that mean you’re any less awesome and less valuable than anyone else?  No.  Your drawing is good, John…but what really matters is that you are loved and you are valued.  No more than, no less than anyone else.  Each one–each one–infinitely and eternally, based not on what we have done (good or otherwise!)  but on who God is.  Pure gift.  If that’s not cause for humility, I don’t know what is….

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Humility: Some Thoughts…

  1. Zena

    As always I enjoy your writings, they cause me to think. (Something I don’t do very often it seems.) Some time ago I realized that I was not taught how to graciously accept a compliment. Whenever I was complimented on something I would say no, as if not being worthy of the compliment or gift. Since this revelation I have tried to be more accepting. Humble? I hope I am but I’m going to be more attuned to my humbleness, or lack there of.

    I couldn’t help but think of our country’s current leader. It is my opinion that he needs to read your message. Humility? Nope. Listening to others? Nope. Most importantly, listening to God and asking for guidance? It doesn’t appear so.

    Let us all continue to pray for him and our country.

    Thank you for all you do and say…and leading me into reflection.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Zena. And it’s gratifying that my thoughts spur you to further reflection! 🙂 I think many (most?) of us are not taught to accept compliments graciously–it’s hard! I’m trying to teach my kids to “just” say, “Thank you.” 🙂 I’m working on it myself, too… It seems like I heard something somewhere about the notion of how recognizing your gifts is a way to honor God, who–presumably–gave them to you. And when we deny them, or downplay them, it’s like a slap in the face to God….. Something further to consider…. 🙂 Thank you again for sharing some of your response!

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